In 2008, when I was seven-years old, my friends asked me who I supported in the presidential election, and I proudly said “Hillary Clinton.” Not because I had any idea what her policies were or because I personally liked her – but because my parents supported her. When Hillary Clinton left the race, my “vote” went to Barack Obama just as my parents’ did.
I didn’t watch much TV, and I certainly did not follow politics or read the newspaper. I wasn’t old enough to form my own political opinion. I could only pick up bits and pieces of what was going on by listening to my parents. The information I received was completely filtered through what they showed or told me; I was only exposed to their own points of view. Because my opinions were based on my parents’ perspectives, I was shielded from the larger world and unable to fully understand the campaigns. But this shielding also protected me from the often aggressive, belligerent, and harmful debates that seem to define politics.
Unlike me, however, the young children today are able to keep up with the news directly through their phones, tablets, or TVs. They don’t just pick up what their parents and older siblings think about the election. They are directly exposed to what the candidates say on national news.
For this reason, the 2016 presidential election makes me worry about how young children today are influenced by the aggressive and negative rhetoric in this year’s election. Today, kids live in a digitized and connected world, much more so than in previous election years. They keep up with the news more easily, and they can access videos of the candidates’ debates via the Internet. Through smartphones, apps, and websites, they are directly exposed to many different facets of political discourse. They take in the highly publicized presidential debates, leaked footage, and comments from news reporters.
Considering Trump’s blatant racism and misogyny, as well as the aggressive rhetoric coming from both candidates, this accessibility is especially concerning. Children are watching and being influenced by the unprofessional and juvenile behavior like the name-calling and personal attacks stated by these presidential candidates.
It is vital that we recognize that our country’s children are picking up bits and pieces of the current election because the future of American children is just as important as tax reforms and the job market. The opinions they form now will have an enormous impact on American politics going forward.
In order to help them understand more about the politics of today, we must first recognize that children hear – loud and clear – what is being said. And perhaps even more importantly, we need to ensure that they recognize some of the behavior of the 2016 election as inappropriate, atypical, and unacceptable to use in their daily lives. It is our collective responsibility, as older siblings, students, and friends, to ensure that children know how to read their political environment and how to make their own political decisions. We cannot easily change the ways candidates speak or act, but we can change how we teach children to respond and discern what they see.